Public justification, political values, and domination

In Thomas M. Besch, Raphael Van Riel, Harold Kincaid & Tarun Menon (eds.), Cultural domination: philosophical perspectives. Routledge (expected 2024) (forthcoming)
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In Rawls’s political liberalism, legitimate exercises of political power must be publicly justifiable to reasonable citizens on grounds each can coherently accept, where citizens count as “reasonable” only if they can accept certain values of public culture. Other citizens have no say in public justification, or no equal say. For Rawls, then, legitimate political power must accord with a subset of cultural values, and can be legitimate even if it is not (equally) justifiable to people who cannot accept them. Does this mean that Rawls permits that such people be dominated? What kind of domination, if any, would this involve, and would it involve “cultural” domination? This chapter takes its lead from these questions. It offers a reading of the role of public justification in political liberalism that foregrounds differences in the discursive standing of reasonable and unreasonable people, and interpret these differences in domination-theoretic terms. I suggest that there is reason to believe that Rawls’s view would subject the unreasonable–a mixed group that also includes respectable people–to forms of discursive and political domination, and this in a manner that attracts the worry that cultural domination is involved.

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Thomas M. Besch
Wuhan University


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